It’s like Argentina saved some of the best (and worst) for last.
Sort of perchance we ended up staying in the small town of Uspallata which is the first gas stop after crossing over the border from Chile to Argentina. Most people get gas and move on to Mendoza but eager to avoid the big city we decided to call it a day in Uspallata. Good call. Looking at the map we saw a smaller road that cut north from Uspallata and eventually reconnect with Ruta 40 north. While at the hotel there was a booth advertising 4WD tours in the local mountains. One of the tour stops was a local mine, hey…. according to our map we would be riding very close to the mines so we added it to our route. If a 4WD vehicle can climb the rocky road to the mines why not us?
Friday 27, 2017. We were up early, caffeinated ourselves, ate the measly breakfast (bread ham and cheese) and hit the dusty trail, so to speak, in order to beat the expected heat of the day. First stop the abandoned mines. The gravel road was easy to ride with incredible scenery surrounding us.
The mine was impressive as well, a large series of stone structures. We didn’t actually figure out what they were mining but we both agreed maybe it was Silver. I suppose if we took the 4WD tour with a guide we would have learned all the facts, oh well. Here are a few pictures.
We found a couple of giant mine shafts that went way down. Forget warning signs, guardrails or any type of safety precautions, if you fall in, too bad for you. Or safety third as my daughter says. Here’s me standing by one such shaft.
We dropped some really big rocks down to try to hear how deep it was, after a few moments we heard loud crashing and finally a big splash. Wouldn’t want to fall down that one but probably a good place to get rid of something that you would never want found again….
Didn’t her mom ever teach her “don’t go near the edge?”
Back on the road we went north on Ruta 149, a fantastic motorcycle road with about 50 miles of gravel and the rest nicely paved. The views around nearly every corner were amazing and I got a lot of practice riding one handed taking pictures with the other.
Couldn’t have been a nicer ride, comfortable temperatures, little traffic and the type of day we look for. We stopped in a small town looking for some lunch. Arriving at “siesta” time nothing was really open except an ice cream shop. Works for me! Next door was this place.
Hmmm, one thing we learned in Spanish class is to watch out for false cognates, words that look like they have the same meaning in Spanish as in English but really have a different meaning. I think that advice would apply here.
Eventually we rejoined the famed Ruta 40 which at this point was mostly straight and flat. The temperatures were now near 100F and we just blasted to the town of San Jose de Jachel where we found a nice albeit, only hotel in town, Hotel San Martin. We were hungry having our typical piece of stale bread with some ham and cheese for breakfast and 1 scoop of ice cream for lunch. We walked to the main square, nothing. As is typical the restaurant’s don’t open until 9:00 PM so we waited in the square and watched the city slowly come alive as the temperatures cooled down. When the tables came out at 9:00 we were the first people to sit down as usually happens. Promptly the server took our order and then we waited some more. About 9:30 a car pulled up full of bags of food. They were hurriedly carried into the kitchen and 20 minutes later our food arrived. No wonder I’ve been loosing weight. Almost every table had it’s own dog tending it. Our particular dog ended up being quite lucky being closest to Deby.
Saturday 28, 2017
As good a day as Friday was Saturday was just a bad day in my book. In case you think every day is a good day, they are not. Yes, many are, maybe most are to be honest but every now and then we encounter a bad day.
We decided to ride to Chilicito, a town we heard was a nice place to visit so we went to Booking.com and found what sounded like a nice hotel. More and more we’re finding it’s good to have a destination at the end of a long day instead of riding around in circles in a strange city in the heat of the day. We made it to Chilecito but didn’t actually stay there…
Below is a map of the day, yellow is our route. Sort of up and down right? According to my GPS 331 miles over 8 hours and 40 minutes. Oh, and for most of that time it was over 100 degrees F. HOT, HOT, HOT.
We started the ride in the lower left corner heading for Chilecito on the upper right. The first mistake was missing the road, highway 150 highlighted in blue. It’s a new road and even though we saw it on Google Maps it hadn’t made it to our GPS files. In addition we connected with Ruta 40 just north of the turnoff and didn’t think we should have backtracked. Oh well North we went until we arrived 100 miles out of our way in Villa Union where we realized our mistake.
We had been seeing a lot of these signs along the road. Cognates again?
Zone of badness, is what I took it to mean, I thought we would be extra careful on what seemed like a benign straight road.
Yikes, we were the second people to stop, it had just happened. We immediately stopped and ran to help. I’m going through what I learned in my first responder crash course (shouldn’t call it that… buy maybe I should). A guy was standing next to the car, and seemed ok despite having just flipped his car. He spoke English which was good and in a few minutes I determined he probably was intact and only slightly shaken. What to do? Push the car back and continue on of course. Once again we learned that Argentinians are the most helpful people, everyone who passed by stopped to help and soon we had enough bodies to right the dented car. In the process I saw he had a flat front tire. My conclusion is that he had a blowout in the badness and caused his car to flip over. With him upright and plenty of people to help Deby and I decided it would be better for us to move on than help change his tire in the relentless heat.
We wanted to visit the national park especially Valle de la Luna which was 100 miles south in the park. We never (sort of) made it. Here is a picture of what we were promised.
Hot and getting tired we talked to the person behind the desk about visiting the Valley of the Moon. Between his lack of English and my poor Spanish he told us it was a 3 hour loop through the park, 40Km and cost 500 Argentian Pesos (about $33). By now it was 2:00 PM which meant we wouldn’t be done until 5:00 PM and we still had a few more hours to get to Chilechico where we had a reservation. We decided to take a minute to think about it in the visitor center cafeteria where we ate (what else) ham and cheese sandwiches. Cooled off and thinking more clearly we decided that with the motorcycles we could easily travel 40Km in about an hour and do a quick drive by of Moon Valley and get to the hotel before it was too late so we went back to pay our 500 pesos. I thought he would open the nearby gate and let us through but no….. he told us to wait. For what? I asked in Spanish to which he replied (about 5 times before I got it) that we had to follow a 4X4 vehicle through the park that stopped at all the interesting points and we would learn about the park all in Spanish. Ummm, no senior, es no bien for us. Three hours in the blazing sun going the equivalent of 10mph was not only painstaking but actually dangerous in the heat and maybe deadly. I tried to explain all this in my now agitated Spanish but he wouldn’t budge. People get lost out there, it’s dangerous you must have a guide. We decided it was best to just leave.
Oh, to make matters worse…. in the visitors center was a video of an amazing new road in Argentina, voted the best highway of the year and and an engineering marvel. The pictures were phenomenal, wow. I had to ask the guy where this incredible road was, we just had to ride there. You guessed it…. the road we missed marked in blue on the map. I wasn’t going back… maybe I should have.
Nobody was around for miles and miles but we had to wait. This nice guy came over to chat wanting to know the usual questions about us and the bike. I answered them all, probably not in the order he asked them, before I asked him, how much longer? We’re hot and need to keep moving. He startind some rapid fire Spanish into his radio, I presume talking to the guy on the other end. Finally he came over to me and handed me the radio! I presume he wanted me to plead our case. In equally rapid English I went into a long explanation that we were on motorcycles, it was hot and we needed to keep moving to try to stay cool. Handing the radio back he laughed at me and waved us on.
HOT became even HOTTER with the blazing sun heating up the black surface and radiating on to us and the bikes. These guys had been productive, this went on for miles and miles. I managed a picture of my thermometer 104, it eventually got to 111 (the zero is blanked out).
We motored on and eventually made it to Chilechico where the hotel was supposed to be a Km Post 431 or something like that. It wasn’t. There wasn’t even a Km post 413, the numbers where in the thousands, what the? I stopped at a gas station to ask if they know where the Posada del Olvia hotel was. Nothing, They pointed me to a nearby visitors center where they didn’t know where it was either. Really? I pressed them and they got out a big book and looked through it. Good news, they found it. Bad news, it was 20Km back in the previous city of Nonogasta. What the? I was not very happy having to put on my wet helmet, steaming jacket and backtrack 20Km. Why didn’t the hotel mention they had changed the Km numbers, why did they say they were in Chilechico when they were actually in the dusty nothing of a town Nonogasta. I already didn’t like the place. With our vague directions we wandered to Nonogasta and followed the highway out of town looking for the whatever of Olives. We were well out of town and about to turn around for another loop when I saw a small sign next to a gate, that was it. After the process of turning the bikes around on the highway, dismounting and removing my hot sweaty helmet and jacket I approached the locked gate. There was a call button with a sign that said it was out of order. I liked this hotel even worse. Not sure what to do next I just stood there like a boiling lump when a car approached from the other side and then someone to open the gate who turned out to be the owner.
Yes, this was it, yes he had our reservation, blah blah and welcome. I think he sensed my frustration when I asked him about the address mix up but we settled in anyhow. Restaurant? Yes. Is it open? No. What? Another day with a piece of bread for breakfast and a ham and cheese sandwich for lunch. What are we to do? Ummmm….. well, there’s nothing in Nonogasta so you have to go to Chilechico. I was about livid and at the end of my rope. I was not getting on the bike at all for the rest of the day. Deby and I pooled our resources, We had some leftover crushed potato chips in Deby’s trunk, a few stale cookies and a small bag of peanuts. Fortunately the hotel had beer which really helped and they brought us some more peanuts and a stem of tiny grapes.
Well, not a good day. I felt like we fought to get to Wally World and it was closed, we needlessly rode about 200 miles out of our way in blazing heat and continued our measly diet that mostly consists of stale bread and bits of ham and cheese.
The good news the days only got better from there.
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Donn and Deby